Rachel Dowling doesn’t mince her words when asked what it is she likes about having a job. Her immediate response: “The money!”
Until Rachel, 45, who was born with intellectual disabilities, joined Penn-Mar’s Day Program, and took up residence with Mim and Bill Barnes through the nonprofit’s Life Sharing program nine years ago, job prospects for her in the community were practically nonexistent. One thing she knew though was that she wanted to work, and with the help of Penn-Mar’s Customized Employment team, she landed her first job working in the kitchen and dining room of The Haven at Springwood, a senior living community in York, Pa.
Her job at The Haven lasted several years until new management came in. By then she had garnered enough work experience and confidence in her abilities to pursue an opportunity that arose at Taco Bell Queen Street in York.
“We knew Rachel’s skills and talents and thought she would be a good fit for Taco Bell, so when we presented her with the chance to work there, she jumped at it,” said Courtney Harless, Penn-Mar PA Employment Support Manager. “That was more than five years ago, and she’s proven herself to be one of their most reliable employees.”
Penn-Mar’s Life Sharing program offers people with intellectual and developmental disabilities the opportunity to live and share a home and life experiences with supportive persons within a family household.
Prior to becoming a Life Sharing host family, Mim, a mother of three, and her husband Bill, who sadly passed away last May, had hosted 11 exchange students over 10 years. Sharing her home and life with Rachel was, as Mim said, “a natural fit.”
Rachel’s life with Mim has opened up opportunities to grow and further her independence through work, and also through the many community activities and experiences the women participate in. Together they belong to the York County Red Hat Society “Sweet Elite Tarts,” which they joined last year, and have made frequent bus trips including one to Kentucky to see the replica of Noah’s Ark, and to Germany and Austria, where they visited various sets of the movie “The Sound of Music.”
In many ways you could say that Rachel has come to embody Taco Bell’s tagline “Live Mas.” The company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion has given her a chance not only to work, but to shine, and as General Manager Travis Robinson shared, to dance as well.
“Rachel is a gem, and a regular part of my team,” said Travis. “As our Hospitality Manager she keeps everyone in good spirits. If she sees anybody down, she lifts them up. You might spot her grooving with the music when we have it on sometimes.”
Rachel’s responsibilities have mainly included maintaining the dining area and restrooms, and refreshing the condiment station, however since the pandemic many of her duties have shifted to the kitchen.
“Rachel takes tremendous pride in her work,” said Courtney. “She’s proud of wearing her uniform, and if you talk to her about work, she smiles from ear to ear.”
Courtney said she can probably count on one hand the times Rachel has called off work in the last five years. “She’s very reliable and conscientious. She cares about what she does and the relationships she’s established.”
“I like working there and the people,” Rachel said. “I get along with everybody.”
“The girl wants to work,” added Mim. “She loves it and I think it’s great for her to be out in the community and around people.”
Up until the COVID-19 shutdown in March, Rachel was working five days a week, and then furloughed through July when she returned on reduced hours. This past January, very eager to return to her pre-COVID schedule, Travis brought her back to work five days, citing her “topnotch” work ethic, and saying: “She does everything she’s asked to do. That’s all I can ever hope for from any employee, let alone our wonderful Rachel.”